That is one of my favorite quotes ever and one I try to live by. I’ve learned this and so much from Courtney Carver’s fabulous “Soulful Simplicity” book in which she describes how “living with less can lead to so much more.” Carver is all about simplifying everything: our homes, our closets, our lives. She’s also behind Project 333, a minimalist fashion challenge that invites participants to dress with 33 items for three months to prove you don’t need all that clothing you have and that you probably wear the same favorites again and again anyway. I’ve yet to challenge myself to this one, but apparently you feel cleansed and complete afterward.
I am all about scaling down where I live though. Just under two years ago my fellow empty nester husband and I scaled way down, moved, and downsized. Our new home is small compared to our previous one and to the majority of those in our neighborhood (I hear the real estate mantra of “never own the biggest house in your neighborhood” repeating in my head) and we love it. It’s not a big home but what’s great, as a neighbor recently told us, is that we use all of it. Yes we do. Another neighbor, who lives in a ginormous house, made us an offer to switch homes because he wants to raise his kids in a “real” home so they have real world expectations. Love his McMansion, but no thank you.
Speaking of McMansions, I recently read something that said their time has run its course and that they are now considered more tacky then trendy. Even back in the day when we weren’t empty nesters I would often look at big houses and think “We could have one. Why don’t we?” In hindsight we didn’t and don’t because we don’t need one. Funny how “need” often loses to “keep up” with the proverbial Joneses. Family after family I know have large homes but not necessarily large families. Room after room go unused. I don’t get it. But maybe I do.
Instead, I love the philosophy of celebrated designer Ilse Crawford. In a recent Netflix documentary on her (part of the fabulous “Abstract” series), I learned that Crawford stands firm on creating environments where humans feel comfortable, public spaces that make people feel at home, and homes that are habitable and make sense for the people who live in them. Perhaps the key words here being “make sense.”
Crawford is adamant that interior design is not necessarily “a look” or all about showmanship and frivolity as so many consider it to be. She notes that more than 80 percent of our time is spent inside buildings and that how those buildings are designed affect how we feel and how we behave. This is why she puts us at the start of every design process. Her aim is functionality and comfort and believes that how one feels in a space and how that space works are equally important, if not more, than how that space looks. In her mind, task lighting is enormously different than mood lighting and purpose is worlds away from posh.
Highly sought after worldwide, Crawford lives by the design idea that spaces, whether they be homes, offices, or businesses, should soothe and enhance the senses.
So, rather than seeing a space and designing it in all the latest styles and what she personally prefers, she steps back and combines design with living, as detailed in her book “A Frame for Life.” In doing so, Crawford bridges the worlds of interior design, architecture, and product design using her unique philosophy of putting the human being at the center of any and all design plans. Genius.
It all makes sense, right? Yes I could have a big ole house and one decorated by the most popular of designers, but would I feel good in it? Would it feel like home? I’m going with no.
It also makes sense that Crawford has essentially developed a whole new way of looking at interior design. Born and raised in London, she is the daughter of an artist/pianist mother and economist/journalist dad. As she admits, her brain and way of thinking is a combination of both. She sees the art in things but also the reality; interrogates a space’s use but empathizes with who uses it. She worked from a very young age but the first thing she ever bought was a lampshade. Again, logical meets decorative.
Crawford studied history and the history of architecture but would dive into issues of Vogue after pouring over books and assignments. The designer-to-be was set to attend NYU but her mom died and she needed to stay home and help with her four siblings. How people behave differently in different spaces always fascinated her and the drab and dreary hospital halls and rooms that she’d frequent while her mom was ill were the first places she realized her “how does this space match the human needs” idea, leading her to further her studies in behavioral science and anthropology.
From there Crawford hit the ground running, working in an architecture firm, editing “Architecture Journal” and “World of Interior,” successfully launching “Elle Deco,” and later completing a successful stint at Donna Karan until she decided to start her own studio. She’s also head of the Eindhoven Design Academy in Holland, considered by many as the world’s best design school, and says it’s her passion to nurture students to always questions why and how their work improves the reality of life. She has since designed for the likes of New York’s SoHo House, Swarovski, and projects from London to Miami, Las Vegas to Asia. Her projects aren’t reserved for the upmarket though. One of her most acclaimed jobs was none other than redesigning IKEA’s restaurants and cafes.
The project was the perfect opportunity to employ one of her favorite elements: incorporating the Danish word “hygge,” which means to make the ordinary extraordinary and the normal special. This might mean making rectangular tables oval or using a mix of materials that create texture but also touch the skin and give you memories.
These ideas were also put in place in an airport gate lounge she was asked to redesign, which like many of the hotels she’s worked on, she designed to feel more like a home. In restaurants she’s big on putting the kitchen where it can not only be seen, but heard and smelled. More than anything, she wants people to feel they belong.
Don’t get me wrong, Crawford’s expertise does not come cheap. All that sensibility comes with a high price and only the fabulous can afford her fabulous talents, but it’s a concept we can all incorporate into our lives and our homes. We can also incorporate another word Crawford casually throws around, “besjala,” which means “to put soul into a place” in Swedish.
I don’t want empty unused rooms and matchy-matchy furnishings in my house. I want soul. I want comfort. In her book “Home Is Where the Heart Is,” Crawford embraces this saying, “The more virtual our world becomes the more we need the physical.” But she doesn’t mean physical as in physically big or impressive, she means the basic human quest for safety, love, respect, and self-fulfillment that expands into and improves our lives and our homes. Yes, it’s the American dream to dream big and dream about a big home and yes, you may have worked really hard to earn it, but do you need it or just want it. If it’s the latter, ask yourself why.
As impressive as she is, equally impressive is that Crawford and her Colombian-born husband live not in a London palace or country estate, but in a compact city loft. Just goes to prove that this uber-famous and high-powered designer practices the practicality she preaches. She’s clearly not only a designing woman, but a wise one.